American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Castings! Part VI, the Nason Cast Boxcar

Since last summer I have been working on a project to reproduce a couple of uncommon, classic American OO models in resin castings. In the previous installment of the series (here), both of the cars are seen before painting and lacking some decals. The first models completed with decals are two Nason cast boxcars.

In this first photo the comparison is between an original Nason sand cast aluminum boxcar and my reproduction. Visually there is hardly any difference, with probably a slight edge for the reproduction car (in the rear), as the sides are a bit smoother. They are assembled in the same manner, with screws and pins. Also, you would say there is hardly any difference if you were holding both in your hands, as I weighted the resin cast copy to the exact same weight as the original, they feel the same. Both are riding on Nason trucks and have Kadee couplers; they look great as a pair on the layout.

I should note the decals, I used parts of two Microscale HO sets, the PENNSYLVANIA is from a 50’ boxcar set and makes the decal job work visually. The ladders are Eastern parts.

In the second photo we get to the comparison of the Nason model to a Lionel model, decorated similarly. Of the two, the Lionel model is the better one in a variety of ways, better details, etc. I think the doors on the Nason model are more effective looking, the Lionel doors are relatively toy like, but on the other hand I wish I had a roof walk for the Nason car that did not have holes drilled in it. (The only original I could find had the countersunk holes. Of course, I could replace them with wood parts, and I might opt for that on subsequent cars.)

What got me started on this part of the casting project was I had parts for 1.5 aluminum Nason boxcars. I wanted to build them up, and I should this summer finish up the half car with reproduction parts -- and will have a few extra sets of parts when this is all done if someone else out there is crazy enough to build a few up.

For me in general there is a division between cars intended for the layout and cars that are part of the collection. These are honestly on the borderline between the two groups of models. I like how they look and operate, they give a little more variety to the layout, but they do have a bit of a rougher look in the end.

Coming soon – quad hoppers, the conclusion of this series!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cleaning up Sand-Cast Parts

One material used for many pre-war American OO models, especially locomotives, is sand-cast bronze.

As implied by the terms used, the mold used to make the part is actually packed sand, which leaves a characteristic rough finish on the finished parts. The process is described further in this article.

In addition, bronze is not at all a soft material. The only way to clean the surface up is by sanding it. To achieve a very fine finish you will have to sand the model with multiple grades of wet or dry sandpaper, working your way down from rough to fine grades. However, the tip of this post is for your initial sanding do as much of it as you can with your part safely in a bench vice and strips of belt sander sandpaper.

I picked up this tip from a natural horn maker. What is great about the belt sander strip is it is very strong and you can sand the part relatively quickly and vigorously using both hands. For curved surfaces such as the end of the Scale-Craft 4-6-2 tender seen in the photo the sander strip is ideal. Also, you can tear it into thin but strong strips for hard to reach places.

Some areas of course you cannot reach in this manner, which means you will have to use files, small sanding blocks, etc. A perfect finish can be obtained, but it will be slow going.

When I see sand cast parts that come to me all cleaned up (especially with tapped holes!), I know and respect the effort it took back on some cold winter’s night before the internet.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Passenger Cars from the West Coast Lines by James Trout

A group of cars I look at periodically are ones received a couple years ago that were built by James Trout. Trout was not only an American OO scale enthusiast but also a Disney illustrator and art school grad (more details in this article). He knew how to build.

In working on organization these few weeks I had these out again and felt it time to do some work on them, fixing some minor problems. There are a total of nine passenger cars decorated for his road, the West Coast Southern. This is the road name seen on his freight cars, but he opted for the West Coast Lines name on the cars below, I think imitating Southern Pacific Lines passenger cars in this regard. I have had the first six of the cars below running on the layout, they make for a nice pair of short mail trains or a longer mail train. Basically he had at least the cars to make a real nice mail train and also something a bit higher level if you add some Pullmans.

At the head of any mail train would be a working RPO, of which two made it to me. Graceline and Nason both produced RPOs, but these are not those, these two cars are scratchbuilt. They have a lot of nice details, the commercial ones on both cars mainly from Nason. Both cars are on Nason trucks. I believe Trout formed the roof of both cars himself from wood, and the longer car, 998, has a real nice effect of a tarpaper roof. The sides of both cars are made from a cardboard material, with the shorter car, 987, showing a little damage (and it is likely an earlier effort on his part). The only rivet details visible are on the ends of the longer car, which are J-C. Lettering as on all these cars is a mixture of decals and hand lettering, with West Coast Lines lettered by hand.

Next up are baggage cars, both of which ride on Nason trucks. 842 is built up from a J-C kit, and on a level that a mere mortal could duplicate. The brake cylinder is Nason and there is another casting that is probably a HO part. Otherwise, the car is pretty much as supplied by J-C except for the roof. This again is an arch roof with the tarpaper effect. What he did was I think use a bandage material and add strips of it. I think in this case done after the initial construction of the car. The new roof totally changes the visual impact of the car. 833 on the other hand is completely scratchbuilt and note those doors that open! Beyond the sides, however, construction details are otherwise generally similar between the two cars. Notable also, these cars have Kadee couplers. It looks like he went back and added these in perhaps the 1970s or 80s to some of these cars.

Passengers need to ride too, and for those we have these two venerable kits. The Scale-Craft coach 4410 is pretty much stock really, but with a few added details and a full interior. This car, actually, it would not be too hard to duplicate the level of the added details, so it is an encouraging model to see, and it would also be the easiest to lightly restore to get it closer to the original look.. The J-C combine 2760 would be a little harder to duplicate, but shows essentially the same added details, with some side damage due to age.

Not pictured, there is also another coach, built from a J-C kit. It is not in good shape, the sides have warped significantly. Which is a shame, as it also has a full interior, etc. I will have to think long and hard on this model, one option being rebuilding with new sides, to bring it up to past glory, but for now I will just keep pondering it.

Two final cars, not as suited to my layout due to length, are these two. 1359 is a parlor lounge car and 1251 is a diner. These I think you would have to call scratchbuilt, they have wood sides and full interiors, with a similar overall detail level to the other cars with some commercial parts visible. The trucks are “opened up” S-C 6 wheel trucks, with the excess material removed for better detail. The sides are a little loose from the bodies but in no danger of falling off.

And then I will need at some point do an article on the four heavyweight Pullmans that match the above cars. Suffice to say three of the four are scratchbuilt in a manner similar to the ones above (and to different prototypes), and they all have full interior details.

The modeling skills of James Trout were really high, at least in part it is a result of his working and living in an age before the Internet when analog skills were more valued. In any case, my plan this summer is to go back and rework the details on several of my best passenger cars to approach the level he obtained, and also be watching for an article or articles on his outstanding streamlined passenger cars.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Four Cars from the Saddleback Mountain

A number of modelers in American OO had their own freelanced railroad names. Ed Morlok put together a rather extensive list of these roads in two parts, the main article being found in The OO Road for March, 2007, and the follow up part 2 in the September, 2007 issue. But then cars turn up from other roads such as these below, and the name of the builder may be lost to history.

Going in order by car number, first up is this nice caboose, Saddleback Mountain number 127. This is as nicely built a Scale-Craft caboose as you are likely to find. The builder added hand rails and brake details, installed Kadee couplers, and look at the paint and lettering. The car is neatly airbrushed and the lettering is done with something not seen a lot today, dry transfers. The mountain logo is hand painted; every logo seen on these cars is just a little different. This and two more of the cars were recent eBay finds.

Next up we have Saddleback Mountain 230, a Scale-Craft boxcar lettered for express merchandise service. This was the original one that I had and it was in rough shape, coming to me with some cars by David Sacks. I thought it might be a line of his but looking now, it is clearly a different builder. I did some initial restoration on this car and Jack Bartman did some more, and a sincere thanks to him to get this back again. I’m wondering if it should have silver trucks like the caboose, and I may change them out. The lettering is a mixture of decals for the data (weight, etc.), dry transfer lettering, and the hand drawn logo.

The third model is a really interesting one, this 65’ mill gondola with a pipe load. Saddleback Mountain 458 was built from an Eric Stevens article that was part of the “dollar model” series published in Model Railroader, subsequently reprinted in their book Easy-to-build Model Railroad Cars. Looking at the car, the builder followed the article closely and used wood mainly with a Strathmore overlay on the sides. It is very neatly built with a nice load, and it is a shame that it has some damage that will be quite difficult to repair. The lettering is worth special note. Besides the dry transfers and the decal data, over on the far right the data you see there is actually hand lettered nicely. Not visible is the brake wheel, it is gone, but the chain for the brakes remains. 

Finally we have a late Scale-Craft reefer, SMRD 605. Like the caboose, this is as nice an example as you are likely to see of this model. It was painted very neatly with an airbrush, and the lettering is mostly decals except for the dry transfer Saddleback Mountain and the hand drawn logo. That same hand that did the logo also did a nice job with the door highlights, and as with the mill gondola this car is on Schoor trucks.

If anyone can point me to who the builder was, do let me know! I will be having more articles on models from vintage OO layouts in the coming months.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Scale-Craft Zinc Casting Breakdown?

Some of the casting materials used in OO models (particularly Famoco and Graceline) have a strong tendency to break down over years, depending on the batch of metal used to make them. A few years ago I posted an article on this “rot,” which is really more formally known as zinc pest. 

I have rarely noted any symptoms of this with Scale-Craft castings. My thinking is they used a better die casting material. I did, not too long ago, run into several hopper cars with some issues on the bodies – blistering -- which I was able to clean up and paint over after a brief soaking in vinegar. The flaws are not too visible.

But then, these castings just came in. WOW! The zinc has broken down badly in several of these truck sideframes, and also the body of an S-C baggage car (seen at the bottom of the photo) is in rough shape.

The question is, what causes this? Turning back to the Wikipedia article also linked from my earlier article, zinc pest

…was first discovered to be a problem in 1923, and primarily affects die-cast zinc articles that were manufactured during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The New Jersey Zinc Company developed zamak alloys in 1929 using 99.99% pure zinc metal to avoid the problem, and articles made after 1960 are usually considered free of the risk of zinc pest since the use of purer materials and more controlled manufacturing conditions make zinc pest degradation unlikely.
Affected objects may show surface irregularities such as small cracks and fractures, blisters or pitting. Over time, the material slowly expands, cracking, buckling and warping in an irreversible process that makes the object exceedingly brittle and prone to fracture, and can eventually shatter the object, destroying it altogether. Due to the expansion process, attached normal material may also be damaged. The occurrence and severity of zinc pest in articles made of susceptible zinc alloys depends both on the concentration of lead impurities in the metal and on the storage conditions of the article in the ensuing decades.

They don’t expand on that point about storage conditions, but I suspect that is part of the issue of these specific castings. Maybe S-C used a bad batch of zinc, but in my real-life professional world of the French horn, another thing is known to attack finishes of instruments; breakdown of the materials inside the case (foam, etc.), creating an aggressive chemical environment if the fumes are not vented out (the problem being seen when a case is closed for months at a time).

As to these trucks, there was likely some trigger based on storage conditions, a condition that perhaps also led to rust on the steel parts. Fortunately, some of the truck castings will clean up OK and the wheels are all good and will be put to use. And the aluminum frames of the S-C cars are both perfect, unaffected as they contain no zinc.

I should note that the Wikipedia article adds that “Zinc pest is different from a superficial white oxidation process ("Weissrost") that may affect some zinc articles.” Some of what you see in old castings is this oxidation process (it looks somewhat like mold on the surface of the model). Truth be known, on these parts in the photo we may be seeing both processes.

As to prevention today, so long as you keep your models in a situation where they can breathe a bit (not in a tightly sealed container) there should be no problems. As I said in my original article, if a casting is going to go bad it probably already has by now.

UPDATE: On taking apart the S-C steel side cars I found this surprise. Look at the roof at the bottom of the photo in particular, it is shrunken in the middle and damaged. Both roofs are damaged. Based on the loose materials inside my working theory is that the windows were a nitrate film stock that broke down. Lucky that it did not start a house fire! Maybe the storage location was also very humid. The fumes from this chemical breakdown probably also influenced the development of the bad zinc pest. I am able to save all the brass parts at the least.

UPDATE II: I did work over the four least damaged 6-wheel truck sideframes seen in the cars in this article, and have them solid. Method involves soaking in vinegar for short periods of time and then scraping off the material impacted by the zinc pest, which is softened by the vinegar. They are now assembled into nice working trucks (using the 3D printed bolsters), will look fine when painted black.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Brief Look at Scale-Craft 4-6-0 Weights

One topic that has been in the back of my mind is weights and S-C 4-6-0 derived models. On the vast majority of this fairly common OO model you will see the weight is cut to fit. The issue is that the Universal motor and drive has a different shape than the original.

This photo is of an original. Note how there is a tab or extension off the main weight that fits right over the big DC motor. Also note, there is a second weight under the motor as well. It has a triangular profile (from the side) and fills the space under the motor, a space that does not exist when the later, Universal motor is used. It is shaped to fit around and behind the last driver. In the photo the second weight is painted black and is more visible if you click on the photo for a closer look.

The result of the combination of weights is that the earlier model is in fact heavier than the later one by a degree. Not so much that you can really notice, but very recently I was able to sort it out so that all three of my models with the early motor/drive have unmodified weights and a weight under the motor. To do the latter I had to make a mold, this is a simple part to cast.

The model seen here is not quite done but the other two are. If  you have never tried running one of these early motors, I find they run very well with the large scale setting on my power pack, which puts out more like 18 volts (the early SC motor is 24V DC). Glad to have all three of mine with the full number of weights.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Look at Two Models from the Newton & Northern

The American OO layout of Newton Guerin was featured in an article on the North Jersey Midland Model Railroad Association in the February, 1947 issue of Model Craftsman. The article itself focuses on operations and the club (the most active OO club in an area that was the hotbed of Amerian OO activity), but with the article are 11 photos of the layout along with helpful captions. I have quoted from the article in two previous posts, here focusing on the clubs of the time and here focusing on this club more specifically.

But then we get to the layout itself and the host, Newton Guerin. His road was the Newton and Northern, a good choice of a name, and recently I have been able to acquire a couple models from his road.

The more impressive model is the 2-6-0. His layout featured 24” minimum radius curves so he kept his locomotives small. The largest was a consolidation and then you can tell he has modified several S-C 4-6-0 models various ways. There is one for example that has been cut down to a 2-4-0, and three Moguls are mentioned specifically in the article text, numbers 23, 24, and 29.

While none of these models appear to be in the article, here is number 23 today. Shortening the model was a bit of a job! The front truck is a modified Nason part (and there are Nason trucks on the tender, for better electrical pickup), but the big change is the frame and boiler and weight. They have all been cut down, cutting a section of the boiler out behind the smokebox. The visual effect I think is really rather nice, as the smaller locomotive is a better match for the tender that has always looked a bit small to me with the standard locomotive.

By the time #23 came to me I suspect Newt had done a few updates over the years. As built I believe it had a manual reverse lever (the hole in the back of the coal area of the tender is difficult to see in the photo), but he had updated it with a modern rectifier in I bet the 1970s, perhaps at the same time updating the trucks as they look relatively freshly painted.

As it came to me one wire was off the motor, but with fixing that and some oil the model came to life and runs very nicely on DC with the big S-C universal motor. Newt knew what he was doing.

There are a number of nice details that one can see, I particularly like the ash pan details under the cab.

One thing mentioned in a photo caption is that every N&N engine has a Lionel smokebox door. That door was actually missing from this model when it came to me, but, fortunately, I had one in my parts box that with some paint is a good match for the engine. It is a nice “family” detail he wanted on his engines, helping unify the layout.

A baggage car is the other N&N model in my collection now, and one exciting thing is it is likely in the photo at the upper right corner of page 28 in the 1947 article. The car number is hard to read in the photo, but it appears to be the same, although it has a different roof now and likely he added a few other details later, including the Famoco generator and diaphragms.

I think the most notable thing is on the model you can tell the decals you see are actually the second set of decals, he originally lettered it for his road but differently, then painted over them and decaled it again! The original lettering is centered between the doors. There is also hand painted lettering on the bottom that says “BLT 1-28” but the “2” is sloppily drawn and is likely actually a 3, with the model dating to 1938. The article indicates that Newt had a working OO layout by 1938, so this would be among his first models.

There must be other of his models around, Newt was in fact still active in OO well into the 1980s and he may be seen in the second of the articles I linked at the beginning of this article. I don’t expect I will be running these models much, but they are nice examples from an era that has passed.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Visualizing 4-8-4 Projects, Getting Organized

Lately a big project has been working through parts. One motivation was to get all the Scale-Craft valve gear parts with the right engines, but also to see where I was with progress overall, and which one to tackle to finish soon.

After a brief side trip into the Nason 2-8-0 parts, the first step was putting out all the S-C valve gear parts by engine and comparing to the instructions and models to be sure I have them correct. Then I broke it down by specific models. I did the 0-6-0 first and have a couple project engines that can be finished, with all the spare parts labeled clearly.  Next up is what you see in the photo, 4-8-4 parts all spread out.

I had been thinking I had three 4-8-4 projects. One was a complete model but only partially built. The second project is the "Pierre" engine, one that Pierre Bourassa had built/rebuilt into a 4-8-2, but then was in parts again, an unfinished rebuilding project of a subsequent owner (and missing a few important parts). Finally, I had what I thought of as an almost complete kit for a engine, no tender.

Now my thinking has changed. This is what happens when looking at projects seriously. I still have the complete model to finish, and it is complete with every part. I have also the Pierre model for which I have almost every part needed and can work out substitutes for the remaining parts. And finally, I have some extra parts! Hopefully of help with some future project or to someone out there.

Next up will be sorting the 4-6-0/4-4-2 projects and parts, figuring out what is most complete and viable, and then to my S-C 4-6-2 and also several Nason projects. Of them all, actually the S-C 4-6-2 stands a good chance of being the first finished, but for sure I want to get several of these out of their project boxes and complete. Glad to be getting things even more organized.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Baker Valve Gear Hangers in OO

A question recently came in related to Baker valve gear hangers.

I had, honestly, not paid a lot of attention to valve gear types on vintage OO models simply because I was more about restoring them to operation. Walshaerts valve gear is more common and was used in most OO steam locomotives produced. However, Baker valve gear was used for the Scale-Craft 0-6-0 switcher and also the Nason Consolidation, and this requires a distinctive hanger.

From left to right in the photo we have two Nason hangers in bronze (marked as part 315), a scratch version made from sheet metal, a mystery bronze version, and finally two of the S-C hangers which are stamped brass.

I know a couple of you are looking for these and I certainly have several extra beyond projects I have underway. If you are one of those people, contact me and I will do what I can to help out. And if you have any idea of the maker of the mystery example let me know!

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Pass from the Yorkville & Western

Recently received was this pass from the Yorkville & Western Railroad.

That was the railroad of Fred Schorr, and note who he issued it to, Pierre Bourassa, another very well-known OO gauge enthusiast. I have a number of models from both of their layouts, so this is a treat to own.

Back in that day people often issued passes for their model railroad. It was a way to connect. These days they are a rarity for model railroaders to produce these, but as the real ones (from actual railroads) can be highly collectible, this is certainly and interesting item for us too.

For a look at another OO gauge layout pass (from the Jersey Coast & Western) see this article.